General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century : Study 3 : The Principle of Association
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(1809 - 1865) ~ Father of Anarcho-Mutualism : ...he turned his talents instead to the printer's trade, a profession which gave birth to many anarchists, but the first to call himself an anarchist was Proudhon. By mid-century, Proudhon was the leading left intellectual in France or for that matter, all of Europe, far surpassing Marx's notoriety or Bakunin's. Proudhon... (From : Dana Ward Bio.)
• "Revolutions are the successive manifestation of justice in human history. — It is for this reason that all revolutions have their origins in a previous revolution." (From : "Toast to the Revolution," by Pierre-Joseph Proudh....)
• "The revolution, in that epoch, without abandoning its first given, took another name, which was already celebrated. It called itself philosophy." (From : "Toast to the Revolution," by Pierre-Joseph Proudh....)
• "What is your flag? Association! And your motto? Equality before fortune! Where are you taking us? To Brotherhood!" (From : "Toast to the Revolution," by Pierre-Joseph Proudh....)
The Revolution of ’89 had the industrial order to build, after having made a clean sweep of the feudal order. By returning to political theories, it plunged us into economic chaos.
In place of a natural order conceived in accordance with science and labor, we have a factitious order, in the shadow of which we have developed parasitic interests, abnormal morals, monstrous ambitions, prejudices at variance with common sense, which today all claim to be legitimate, invoking a tradition of sixty years, and, being unwilling either to abdicate or to modify their demands, place themselves in an antagonistic attitude toward one another, and in a reactionary attitude toward progress.
As this state of affairs, of which the principle, the means and the end is War, is unable to answer the needs of an entirely industrial civilization, revolution is the necessary result.
But, as everything in the world is material for usury, when the need for a revolution makes itself plain to the masses, at the same time there arise theories, schools, sects, which take possession of the stage, secure the favor of the people by more or less plausible statements, and, under color of ameliorating their lot, of vindicating their rights, of reestablishing them in the exercise of their authority, work earnestly for their own pockets.
Therefore, before seeking a solution of the problem presented to modern society, it is worth while to estimate the value of the theories offered for popular consumption, the unavoidable luggage of all revolutions. In a work of this nature, utopias may not be passed by in silence; on the one hand, because, as an expression of parties and sects, they play a part in the drama; on the other, because, error being most often but a distortion or counterpart of truth, the criticism of partial views renders the comprehension of the general idea easier.
Let us lay down first a rule of criticism with regard to revolutionary theories, as we laid down a criterion upon the hypothesis of revolution itself.
To ask whether there was sufficient reason for revolution in the nineteenth century, we have said was equivalent to asking what the tendency of present society.
And we have answered: Inasmuch as it is the conclusion of all statistics, of all investigations, of all reports, and is admitted by all political parties, although for different reasons, that society is upon a downward and dangerous road, a revolution is inevitable.
Such has been our reasoning as to the utility and necessity of the Revolution. In insisting upon it further, we shall learn from it the rule which we need.
As it is the tendency of Society which is bad, the problem of the Revolution is to change this tendency, to straighten society up again, as a young tree is straightened with the aid of a support, to make it take a different direction; as a carriage is turned in a different direction after it has been pulled out of a rut. The whole task of the Revolution should consist of this straightening out: there can be no question touching Society itself, which we must regard as a superior being, endowed with independent life, and in consequence remote from any idea on our part to reconstruct it arbitrarily.
This first datum is entirely in accordance with the instincts of the people.
The people indeed are not at all utopian, as the regular events of revolutions show. Enthusiasm and frenzy take possession of them only at rare and brief intervals. They seek not the Sovereign Good, like the ancient philosophers, nor Happiness, like modern socialists: they have no faith in the Absolute, and they reject every a priori system, as deadly in its nature. Their profound sense tells them that the absolute cannot enter into human institutions, any more than the status quo. As the people accepts no final formula, but wants to advance continually, it follows that the mission of its teachers is merely to widen the horizon and to clear the way.
This fundamental condition of the revolutionary solution does not seem to have been understood hitherto.
Systems abound; schemes fall like rain. One would organize workshops, another the Government, in which he has more confidence. We know the social hypotheses of the Saint Simonians, of Fourier, Cabet, Louis Blanc, &c. Recently balm has been dropped from the lips of Messrs. Considerant, Rittinghausen and E. Girardin, upon the form of sovereignty. But no one that I know of has said that the question for both politics and economy, was of tendencies, rather than of constitutions; that before all else, it was for us to find out whither we are going, not to dogmatize; in a word, that the solution lay in drawing Society back out of the dangerous path into which it is hastening, and to set it on the high road of common sense and well-being, which is its law.
Not one of the socialistic or governmental theories which has been proposed has seized this capital point of the question. Far from that, they are all the formal denial of it. The spirit of exclusion, of absolutism, of reaction, is the common characteristic of their authors. With them Society does not live: it is on the dissecting table. Not mentioning that the ideas of these gentlemen remedy nothing, guarantee nothing at all, open no prospect, leave the intelligence more empty, the soul more weary than before.
Instead, therefore, of examining systems, which would be an endless labor, and, what is worse, a labor without the possibility of conclusion, we are about to examine their fundamental principle, with the aid of our criterion. We are to seek, from the point of view of the present revolution, what these principles contain, what they can give; for it is evident that if the principles contain nothing, and can yield nothing, it is useless to consider the systems. The worth of these will have been settled: the most beautiful will have been found the most absurd.
I begin with the principle of Association.
If I wanted merely to flatter the lower classes, the recipe would not be difficult. Instead of a criticism of the social principle, I should deliver a panegyric of workingmen’s societies, I should exalt their virtues, their constancy, their sacrifices, their spirit of benevolence, their marvelous intelligence; I should herald their triumphs. What could I not say on this subject, dear to all democratic hearts? Do not the workmen’s unions at this moment serve as the cradle for the social revolution, as the early Christian communities served as the cradle of Catholicity? Are they not always the open school, both theoretical and practical, where the workman learns the science of the production and distribution of wealth, where he studies, without masters and without books, by his own experience solely, the laws of that industrial organization, which was the ultimate aim of the Revolution of ’89, but of which our greatest and most famous revolutionists caught only a glimpse? What a topic for me, for the manifestation of a facile sympathy, which is not the less disinterested, in that it is always sincere! With what pride do I recall that I too wanted to found an association, more than that, the central agency and circulating organ of workmen’s associations! And how I cursed that Government, which, with an expenditure of 300 millions, could not find a cent which it could use for the benefit of poor workingmen! …
I have better than that to offer to associations. I am convinced that at this moment they would give much for an idea, and it is ideas that I am bringing them. I should decline their approval, if I could obtain it only by flattery. If those of their members who may read these pages will but deign to remember that, in treating of association, it is a principle, even less than that, a hypothesis, that I discuss: it is not this or that enterprise, for which, in spite of its name, association is in nowise responsible, and of which the success in point of fact, does not depend upon association. I speak of Association in general, not of associations, whatever they may be.
I have always regarded Association in general—fraternity—as a doubtful arrangement, which, the same as pleasure, love, and many other things, concealed more evil than good under a most seductive aspect. It is perhaps the effect of the temperament which nature has given me, that I distrust fraternity as much as I do passion. I have seen few men who were proud of either. Especially when Association is presented as a universal institution, the principle, means and end of the Revolution, does it appear to me to hide a secret intention of robbery and despotism. I see in it the inspiration of the governmental system, which was restored in ’91, strengthened in ’93, perfected in 1804, erected into a dogma and system from 1814 to 1830, and reproduced in these latter days, under the name of direct government, with an impulse which shows how far delusion of mind has gone with us.
Let us apply the criterion.
What does society want today?
That its tendency toward sin and poverty should become a movement toward comfort and virtue.
What is needed to bring about this change?
The reestablishment of the equilibrium of forces.
Is association the equilibrium of forces?
Is association even a force?
What, then, is association?
Association is so much a dogma, in the eyes of those who propose it as a revolutionary expedient, something finished, complete, absolute, unchangeable, that all they who have taken up this Utopia have ended, without exception, in a system. In illuminating with their fixed idea the different parts of the social body, they were bound to end, and in fact they did end, by reconstructing society upon an imaginary plan, much like the astronomer, who, from respect for his calculations, made over the system of the universe.
Thus the Saint Simonian school, going beyond the idea of its founder, produced a system: Fourier produced a system; Owen, a system; Cabet, a system; Pierre Leroux, a system; Louis Blanc, a system; as Baboeuf, Morelly, Thomas More, Campanella, Plato, and others before them, who, each starting from a single principle, produced systems. And all these systems, antagonistic among themselves, are equally opposed to progress. Let humanity perish sooner than the principle! that is the motto of the Utopians, as of the fanatics of all ages.
Socialism, under such interpreters, became a religion which might have passed, five or six hundred years ago, as an advance upon Catholicism, but which in the nineteenth century is as little revolutionary as possible.
No, Association is not a directing principle, any more than an industrial force. Association, by itself, has no organic or productive power, nothing which, like the division of labor, competition, &c., makes the worker stronger and quicker, diminishes the cost of production, draws a greater value from materials, or which, like the administrative hierarchy, shows a desire for harmony and order.
To justify this proposition, I must first cite a few facts as examples. Then I shall prove that, on the one hand, Association is not an industrial force, on the other, as a corollary, that it is not a principle of order.
I have proved somewhere in the Confessions of a Revolutionary, that commerce, independently of the service rendered by the material fact of transportation, is in itself a direct spur to consumption, and therefore a cause of further production, a principle of the creation of values.
At first this may seem paradoxical, but it has been demonstrated by economic analysis: the metaphysical act of exchange, in addition to labor, but by a different method from labor, is a producer of real value and of wealth. Furthermore, this assertion will astonish nobody who reflects that production or creation signifies only change of form, and that therefore creative forces, labor itself, are immaterial. So that the merchant who has enriched himself by real speculation, without usurious profit, enjoys the fortune which he has acquired by a perfectly just title: his fortune is as legitimate as that which labor has produced. And pagan antiquity, as well as the Church, has unjustly aspersed commerce, upon the pretext that its rewards were not the remuneration of real services. Once again, Exchange, an entirely immaterial operation, which is accomplished by the reciprocal consent of the parties, cost and distance of transportation being allowed for, is not merely a transposition or substitution, it is also a creation.
Commerce, then, being in itself a producer of wealth, men have engaged in it with ardor in all ages; no need for the legislator to preach its advantages and to recommend the practice of it. Let us suppose, what is not an absolutely absurd supposition, that commerce did not exist, that with our vast means of industrial execution, we had no idea of exchange: it is easy to see that if some one should come to teach men to exchange their products and trade among themselves, he would be rendering them an immense service. The history of humanity mentions no revolutionary who could compare with such an one. The remarkable men who invented the plow, the vine, wheat, did not rank above him who first invented commerce.
The union of forces, which must not be confounded with association, as we shall shortly see, is equally with labor and exchange, a producer of wealth. It is an economic power of which I was, I believe, the first to accentuate the importance, in my first memoir upon Property. A hundred men, uniting or combining their forces, produce, in certain cases, not a hundred times, but two hundred, three hundred, a thousand times as much. This is what I have called collective force. I even drew from this an argument, which, like so many others, remains unanswered, against certain forms of appropriation: that it is not sufficient to pay merely the wages of a given number of workmen, in order to acquire their product legitimately; that they must be paid twice, thrice or ten times their wages, or an equivalent service rendered to each one of them.
Collective force, in its bare metaphysical aspect, is another principle which is not less a producer of wealth. Moreover its application is found in every case in which individual effort, no matter how often repeated, would be ineffective. Nevertheless, no law commands its application. It is remarkable that the utopian socialists have never thought of boasting of it. It is because collective force is an impersonal act, while association is a voluntary agreement: there may be points wherein they meet, but they are not identical.
Let us suppose again, as in the preceding case, that a working society is composed of only isolated workers, who do not know how to combine and unite their efforts when occasion requires: the worker who should impart to [them] this secret would himself alone do more for progress than steam and machinery, since he alone would make their use possible. He would be one of the great benefactors of humanity, a revolutionary really out of the ordinary.
I pass over other facts of the same nature which I might also cite, such as competition, division of labor, property, &c., which together constitute what I call economic forces, real productive principles. The description of these forces may be found at length in the works of the economists, who, with their absurd scorn for metaphysics, have demonstrated, without suspecting it, through the theory of industrial forces, the fundamental dogma of Christian theology, creation out of nothing.
The question remains whether Association is one of these essentially immaterial forces, which by their action become productive of utility and a source of prosperity; for it is evident that only on this condition can the principle of association—I make no distinction of schools—be advanced as the solution of the problem of poverty.
In a word, is Association an economic power? For twenty years now it has been heralded and its virtues set forth. How is it that no one has demonstrated its efficacy? Can it be that the efficacy of Association is more difficult to demonstrate than that of commerce, credit, or the division of labor?
For my part, I answer categorically: No. Association is not an economic force. It is in its nature sterile, even injurious, since it places fetters on the liberty of the laborer. The authors who have advocated utopian fraternities, by which so many are still attracted, have attributed, without reason or proof, a virtue and efficacy to the social contract, which belongs only to collective force, the division of labor, or to exchange. The public has not perceived the confusion; hence the experiments of societies with constitutions, their varying fortunes, and the uncertainty of opinion.
When an industrial or commercial society aims at setting to work one of the great economic forces, or at carrying on a business, of which the nature requires that it should remain undivided, such as a monopoly, or an established line of trade, the society formed for this object may result successfully, but it does so not by virtue of its principle, but by virtue of its methods. So true is this that whenever the same result can be obtained without it, the preference is to dispense with association. Association is a bond which is naturally opposed to liberty, and to which nobody consents to submit, unless it furnishes sufficient indemnification; so that, to all utopian socialists, one may oppose this practical rule: Never, except in spite of himself, and because he cannot do otherwise, does man associate.
Let us make a distinction between the principle of association, and the infinitely variable methods, of which a society makes use when affected by external circumstances foreign to its nature; among which I place in the first rank the economic forces. The principle is one which would defeat the enterprise, unless another motive were found: the methods are what permit one to merge himself in it, in the hope of obtaining wealth by a sacrifice of independence.
We will explain this principle, and afterwards the methods.
Whoever talks of association, necessarily implies obligation, common responsibility, fusion of rights and duties in relation to outsiders. It is thus that all the fraternal societies understand it, even the Harmonists, notwithstanding their dream of emulative competition.
In association, he who does what he can, does what he ought: for the weak or lazy associate, and for him only, it may be said that the association is of service. Hence the equality of wages, the supreme law of association.
In association, all are responsible for all: the smallest is as much as the greatest: the last comer has the same rights as the oldest member. Association wipes out all faults, levels all inequalities, hence the inclusion in the membership of lack of skill as well as of incapacity.
The formula of association then is as follows; it is thus enunciated by Louis Blanc:
From each according to his ability.
To each according to his needs.
The Code, in its different definitions of civil and commercial society, is in accord with the orator of the Luxembourg: any derogation from this principle is a return to individualism.
Thus explained by Socialists and jurists, can Association be generalized and become the universal higher law, the public civil law of a whole nation?
Such is the question proposed by the different social schools, and all unanimously answer it in the affirmative while varying their modes of application.
My answer is: No, the contract of association, under whatever form, can never become a universal rule, because, being by its nature unproductive and harassing, applicable only to quite special conditions, its inconveniences growing much more rapidly than its benefits, it is equally opposed to the advantageous use of labor, and to the liberty of the workman. Whence I conclude that a single association can never include all the workmen in one industry, nor all industrial corporations, nor, a fortiori, a nation of 36 millions of men; therefore that the principle of association does not offer the required solution.
I may add that association is not only not an economic force, but that it is applicable only under special conditions, depending on the methods. It is easy to verify this second proposition by the facts, and thence to determine the part played by association in the nineteenth century.
The fundamental characteristic of association, as we have said, is binding union.
What reason then could lead workingmen to form a binding union among themselves, to give up their independence, to place themselves under the absolute law of a contract, and, what is worse, of an overseer?
There might be many reasons, differing much, but the reason, whatever it is, must be external to the society.
People associate themselves sometimes to hold a business that has been started by a single promoter, which they would risk losing if they should separate;—sometimes to carry on together an industry, a patent, a privilege, &c., which could not be profitably worked otherwise, or which would yield less to each, if it were carried on competitively;—sometimes on account of the impossibility of obtaining the necessary capital otherwise;—sometimes, finally, to equalize and divide the chances of loss by shipwreck, conflagration, or to equalize obnoxious or painful services, &c.
Go to the bottom of it, and you will find that every society which prospers, owes it to an outside cause which is foreign to it, and has no relation to its nature; without that, I repeat, the society could not exist, however skillfully organized it might be.
Thus in the first of the instances we have brought forward, the purpose of the society is to develop a business of established reputation, which alone is the most important of its assets; in the second, it is founded upon a monopoly, that is, upon something most exclusive and anti-social; in the third, the joint-stock company, the society sets to work some economic force, whether collective power or division of labor; in the fourth, the society is confounded with insurance, which is a gambling contract, invented precisely for the purpose of supplying the place of the fraternity which is absent or inactive.
Under any of these conditions, the society is seen not to exist by virtue of its own principles; it depends upon its powers, upon an outside cause. But what they promise, what we need, is a fundamental, vivifying, active, principle.
People associate also for economy in consumption, in order to avoid the loss incurred by retail buying. That is the method M. Rossi advises for small households, whose resources do not permit them to by at wholesale. But this sort of association which is that of purchases of meat at auction, bears witness against association as a principle. Give the producer the power, by the exchange of his products, to buy his provisions at wholesale; or, what comes to the same thing, organize retail trade under conditions that will give it almost the same advantages of cheapness as buying at wholesale, and association becomes useless. People who are in easy circumstances do not need to join such associations: they are more bother than they are worth.
Notice too that in every society thus founded for a definite purpose, the obligation of the contract never extends beyond what is strictly necessary. The members do indeed answer for each other to outsiders, and to the law, but beyond that they remain without obligation. Thus several workmen’s working associations in Paris, which at first wanted, through an excess of devotion, to do better than usual, and organized on the principle of equality of wages, were afterwards compelled to abandon it. At present, in all such associations, the members do piecework, so that the associated contribution consists chiefly of labor, each one being remunerated in proportion to his product, in wages and in profits. The working association is just the opposite of the joint stock company: it is a joint stock company in which the subscription, instead of being in money is made in work, which is quite the opposite of fraternity. In a word, in every association, the members, seeking, by the union of their labor and capital, certain advantages which they could not obtain otherwise, arrange to have as little obligation and as much independence as possible.
Association formed without any outside economic consideration, or any leading interest, association for its own sake, as an act of devotion, a family tie, as it were, is an act of pure religion, a supernatural bond, without real value, a myth.
This becomes very striking when we examine the different theories of association brought forward for the acceptation of disciples.
Fourier, for instance, and after him, Pierre Leroux, assure us that if the workers group themselves according to certain organic mental affinities, of which the character is described, by that alone they will grow in energy and capacity; that the spirit of the worker, so sad usually, will become gay and joyous; that the product, both individual and collective, will be greatly augmented; that therein lies the productive power of association, which may hereafter rank as an economic force. Attractive labor is the accepted formula for describing this marvelous result of association. This is quite a different matter, it will be seen, from the devotion, at which the theories of Louis Blanc and Cabet so pitifully stop.
I dare to say that the two eminent socialists, Fourier and Pierre Leroux, have taken their symbolism for reality. In the first place, no one has ever seen anywhere in practice this social force, analogous to collective force and the division of labor; even the inventors of it and their disciples have yet to make their first experiment. In the second place, the slightest acquaintance with the principles of political economy and of psychology would suffice to show that there can be nothing in common between an exaltation of the soul, such as the cheerfulness of companionship, the synergic song of oarsmen, &c., and an industrial force. Such manifestations would most often be in opposition to the seriousness, the taciturnity, of labor. Labor, along with love, is the most secret, the most sacred, function of man: it is strengthened by solitude, it is dissolved by prostitution.
But such a review of these psychological considerations and of the absence of all experimental data, does not take into account what these two authors believe they have discovered, after so many profound researches, the one in the Series of Contrasted Groups, the other in the Triad, is nothing but the mystic and apocalyptic expression of what has existed always in industrial practice; the division of labor, collective force, competition, exchange, credit, even property and liberty. Who cannot see that it is with utopians, both ancient and modern, as it is with theologians of all religions? While the latter, in their mysteries, do nothing but rehearse the laws of philosophy and of humanitarian progress the former, in their philanthropic essays, dream, without being aware of it, the great laws of social economy. Most of these laws, these forces of production, which ought to save mankind from poverty and crime, I have above mentioned. These are the true economic forces, the immaterial principles of all wealth, which, without chaining man to man, leave to the producer the most complete liberty, lighten labor, inspire it, double its product, establish among men an obligation which has nothing personal about it, and unite them by bond stronger than all sympathetic unions and all contracts.
The wonders announced by these two prophets have been known for centuries. We can see the influence of that efficacious grace, of which the organizer of the Series dreamed; that gift of divine love which the disciple of Saint Simon promised to his followers; corrupt as it was, lawless as the revolutionaries of ’89 and ’93 have left it to us, we can follow its oscillations at the Stock Exchange and in our markets. Let the Utopians awaken from their sentimental ecstasies, let them deign to look at what is passing about them, let them read, listen, experiment; they will see that what they attribute with so much enthusiasm, one to the Series, another to the Trinity, another to devotion, is nothing but the product of the economic forces that were analyzed by Adam Smith and his successors.
As it is above all in the interest of the working class that I have entered upon this discussion, I shall not end without saying something more about workmen’s associations, of the results which they have obtained, and of the part which they are to play in the Revolution.
The great majority of these societies have been formed by men who were filled with fraternal theories, and convinced, although they may have been unaware of it, of the economic validity of the principle. In general these societies were sympathetically received: they enjoyed the favor of the Republic, which secured them, at the outset, the beginnings of membership: newspaper advertising was not lacking; all the elements of success, which have not been sufficiently taken into account, were there, but quite foreign to the principle.
Now, how do we find them?
Among them a goodly number sustain themselves and promise to develop further: everybody knows why.
Some of them are composed of the most skillful workmen in their trade: it is the monopoly of talent that supports them.
Others have attracted and retain membership by low prices: it is competition which gives them life.
I say nothing of those which have obtained government orders and credit; a purely gratuitous encouragement.
Finally, in general, with all these associations, the workmen, in order to dispense with middlemen, commission dealers, promoters, capitalists, &c., who, in the old order of things, stand between the producer and consumer, have had to work a little more, and get along with less wages. There is nothing in this but what is quite a matter of course in political economy; for the securing of which, as I shall show forthwith, there was no need of association.
Assuredly, the members of these societies are filled with the most fraternal sentiments toward each other and toward the public. But let them tell whether this fraternity, far from being the cause of their success, is not itself caused by the strict justice which rules in their mutual relations: let them tell what would become of them, if they did not find the guaranty of their enterprise elsewhere than in the charity which animates them, and which is but the cement of the edifice, whereof the stones are labor, and the forces which multiply labor?
As for societies which have only the doubtful virtue of association to sustain them, whose industries might be carried on privately, without any meeting of workmen, they are carried on with the greatest difficulty; and they manage to fill the voids in their organization only by devoted effort, by continual sacrifices, and by unlimited patience.
As an example of rapid success, the butchery associations are brought up, which are becoming the fashion everywhere. This example, more than any other, shows how far the inattention of the public and the incorrectness of ideas extend.
The butchery associations have no association about them but the name: they are competitions supported at common expense by the citizens of each community against the butchers’ monopoly. They are the application, such as it may be, of a new principle, not to say a new economic force, Reciprocity, which consists in the sellers and buyers guaranteeing each other, irrevocably, their products at cost price.
This principle then, on which is founded all the importance of the butchers’ stores, called coöperative, has so little association about it, that in many of them the service is by paid workers, under the direction of a supervisor who represents the stockholders. For this office, the first-come butcher who left the coalition was sufficient; there was no need of going to the expense of new men, as there was for new materials.
The principle of reciprocity, on which are founded the coöperative butcher’s and grocer’s stores, is tending now to displace that of fraternity, as an organic element, in workmen’s associations. This is how The Republic of April 20th, 1851, describes a new society, The Reciprocity, formed by journeymen tailors:—
These are workmen who challenge the maxim of the old economy,No capital, no work,which, if it were founded on correct principle, would condemn to hopeless and endless servitude and poverty the innumerable class of workers, who, living from hand to mouth, are without any capital. Unwilling to admit this desperate conclusion of official science, and consulting rather the rational laws of the production and consumption of wealth, these workmen think that capital, which is said to be an essential element for the exercise of labor, is really only a conventional utility; and that the only productive agents are the intelligence and hands of man. They think that therefore it is possible to organize production, and to secure the exchange of products and their normal consumption, merely by providing direct communication between producers and consumers, who will be permitted, by the suppression of oppressive go-betweens, to reap the benefits which at present are gathered by capital, that sovereign ruler of labor, and of the needs and life of everybody.
According to this theory, the emancipation of workers is thus made possible by bringing together individual powers and needs, in other words, by the association of producers and consumers, who, ceasing to have opposite interests, will escape permanently from the domination of capital.
In fact, as the needs of consumption are fixed, if the producers and consumers enter into direct relations, if they associate themselves and give each other credit, it is clear that there will no longer be any reason for the rise and fall of prices, the factitious increase or arbitrary depreciation to which speculation forces labor and production to submit.
This is the ideal of The Reciprocity, which its founders have already realized to the extent of their ability, by the issue of notes, called notes of consumption, which are always redeemable in the products of the association. Thus financed by those who make use of it, the association sells its products at cost, making no addition for the remuneration of its own services, but a moderate charge for the actual labor. This is the rational solution which the founders offer for all the important questions of economics which have of late been raised, notably the following:
Abolition of exploitation in all its forms.
Gradual and peaceful abolition of capital.
Creation of gratuitous credit.
Guaranty and equitable reward of labor.
Emancipation of the lower classes.
This association of tailors is the first which has been founded officially and, so to speak, scientifically, upon an economic force which has remained to this day hidden and unused in commercial routine. It is evident that employment of this force in no way constitutes a social contract, but at the most a contract of exchange in which the mutual or reciprocal relation between merchant and customer is at least understood, if not formally expressed. And when the author of the article, who is an old communist, makes use of the word association to designate the new relations which The Reciprocity proposes to develop between producers and consumers, it is evident that he yields to former preconceptions, or that he is influenced by habit.
Moreover, while granting due honor to the founders of The Reciprocity for this great principle, the writer in the Republic should have reminded them, for their guidance, of the following fundamental facts relating to their own theory, that is to say, that the obligation on the part of the producer toward the consumer to deliver his products at cost price, which constitutes the new economic power, is essentially mutual and two-sided. That it would not suffice, moreover, as the basis of an association of workers, if the law of reciprocity were universally adopted and put into practice. That a society formed on this basis alone should sustain itself, requires that the majority of the community, despising it, should leave the profit to its members; and that, on the day when reciprocity shall become a law of social economy, by the consent of all citizens, the first-comer who is not a member of the society will be able to offer to the public the same advantages that the society offers, with even greater advantage, in that he has no overhead expenses, that the society then will be objectless.
Another association of the same sort, of which the mechanism approaches even more closely the elementary formula of reciprocity, is The Housekeeper, which the same newspaper, the Republic, has described in its issue of the 8th of May. Its aim is to assure to consumers all the articles of consumption at reduced prices, of superior quality, and without any fraud. To join, it is sufficient to subscribe the sum of one dollar, called social capital, plus 10 cents for general expenses of administration. Observe that the members accept no responsibility make no engagement, have no other obligation except to pay for articles which are delivered at their homes upon their order. The general agent only is responsible.
The principle is the same in both cases. In the coöperative butcher shops, the guaranty of cheapness, good quality and full weight is obtained by a joint stock company, limited, managed by a special agent, discharging the functions of owner and manager toward this express end. In The Housekeeper, there is a general manager, representing all possible lines of trade, who takes the responsibility of furnishing all articles of consumption, upon a subscription of one dollar, with ten cents additional for expenses. With the tailors, there is one extra piece of mechanism, of wide range in its possibilities, but at present adding little real advantage, the note of consumption. Suppose that all the merchants, manufacturers and dealers of the city should make an engagement among themselves and with the public like that which the coöperative butcher shops, the founder of The Housekeeper, and the tailors of The Reciprocity make with their members, the association would then become universal. But it is clear that such an association would not be an association at all; commercial customs would be changed, that would be all; reciprocity would have become the rule, yet everybody would be just as free as before.
Therefore, although I am far from suggesting that association will ever disappear entirely from the system of human transactions, inasmuch as I admit that there are circumstances wherein it is indispensable, nevertheless I may assert, without fear of contradiction, that the principle of association is undermined every day by the practice of it; and while, scarcely three years ago, workingmen all tended toward fraternal association, today they are aiming at a system of guaranties, which, once realized, will render association superfluous in a multitude of cases, at the same time, note well, that it will demand association in others. At the bottom, existing associations, in forming an irresistible mass of producers and consumers in direct relation with one another, have no other end than to produce this result.
But if association is not a productive force, if on the contrary it imposes onerous conditions, from which labor naturally seeks to free itself, it is clear that association can no longer be considered an organic law; that, far from assuring equilibrium, it would tend rather to destroy harmony, by imposing upon all general obligation, instead of justice, instead of individual responsibility. Association therefore cannot be maintained from the point of view of right, and as a scientific factor; but only as a sentiment, a mystic principle, a divine institution.
Nevertheless the champions, despite everything, of association, feeling how sterile is their principle, how opposed to liberty, how little therefore it can be accepted as the sovereign formula of the Revolution, are making the most incredible efforts to sustain this will-o’-the-wisp of fraternity. Louis Blanc has gone so far as to reverse the republic motto, as if he wanted to revolutionize the revolution. He no longer says, as everybody else says, and according to tradition, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity; he says Equality, Fraternity, Liberty! We begin with Equality nowadays; we must take equality for our first term; upon it we must build the new structure of the Revolution. As for Liberty, that is deduced from Fraternity. Louis Blanc promises liberty after association, as the priests promise paradise after death.
I leave to you to guess what kind of socialism it will be which plays thus with transpositions of words.
Equality! I had always thought that it was the natural fruit of Liberty, which has no need of theory nor of constraint. I had thought, I say, that from the organization of economic forces, the division of labor, competition, credit, reciprocity, above all, education, that Equality would be born. Louis Blanc has changed all that. A new Sganarelle, he puts Equality on the left, Liberty on the Right, Fraternity between them, like Jesus Christ between the two thieves. We cease to be free, as nature made us, in order to become equal, which only labor can make us, as a preliminary, by State order; after which we become more or less free, according to the convenience of the Government.
From each according to his capacity;
To each according to his needs.
Equality demands this, according to Louis Blanc.
Let us pity those whose revolutionary capacity reduces itself to this casuistry. But let not that prevent us from refuting them, for the Kingdom of Innocents is theirs.
Let us recall the principle once more. Association is then, as Louis Blanc defines it, a contract which wholly or partially (General and Special Associations, Civil Code, Art. 1835) places the contracting parties on a level, subordinates their liberty to social duty, depersonalizes them, treats them almost as M. Humann would treat taxpayers when he laid down this axiom: Make them pay all the taxes they can! How much does a man produce? How much does it cost to feed him? That is the supreme question which springs from the, what shall I call it? declension formula—From each… To each… in which Louis Blanc sums up the rights and duties of an associate.
Who then shall determine the capacity? who shall be the judge of the needs?
You say that my capacity is 100: I maintain that it is only 90. You add that my needs are 90: I affirm that they are 100. There is a difference between us of twenty upon needs and capacity. It is, in other words, the well-known debate between demand and supply. Who shall judge between the society and me?
If the society persists, despite my protests, I resign from it, and that is all there is to it. The society comes to an end from lack of associates.
If, having recourse to force, the society undertakes to compel me; if it demands from me sacrifice and devotion, I say to it: Hypocrite! you promised to deliver me from being plundered by capital and power; and now, in the name of equality and fraternity, in your turn, you plunder me. Formerly, in order to rob me, they exaggerated my capacity and minimized my needs. They said that products cost me so little, that I needed so little to live! You are doing the same thing. What difference is there then between fraternity and the wage system?
It is one of two things: either association is compulsory, and in that case it is slavery; or it is voluntary, and then we ask what guaranty the society will have that the member will work according to his capacity and what guaranty the member will have that the association will reward him according to his needs? Is it not evident that such a discussion can have but one solution—that the product and the need be regarded as correlated expressions, which leads us to the rule of liberty, pure and simple?
Reflect a moment. Association is not an economic force; it is only a bond of conscience, obligatory before that inward tribunal, and of no effect, or rather of an injurious effect, in relation to labor and wealth. And it is not by the aid of a more or less skillful argument that I prove it: it is the result of industrial practice since the origin of associations. Posterity will not understand how, in a century of innovation, writers, reputed to be the first to understanding social matters, should have made so much noise about a principle which is entirely subjective, and which has been explored to its foundations by all the generations of the globe. In a population of 36 millions, there are 24 millions occupied with agriculture. These you can never associate. What use would it be? To work the soil requires no social mapping-out; and the soul of the peasant is averse to association. The peasant, remember, applauded the repression of June, 1848, because he saw in it an act of liberty against communism.
Out of the 12 millions remaining, at least 6 millions, composed of mechanics, artisans, employers, functionaries, for whom association is without object, without profit, without attraction, would prefer to remain free.
There are then 6 million souls, composing in part the wage-working class, whom their present condition might interest in workmen’s associations, without closer examination, and upon the strength of promises, I venture to say in advance to these six million persons, fathers, mothers, children, old men, that they will hasten to free themselves from their voluntary yoke, if the Revolution should fail to furnish them with more serious, more real reasons for associating themselves than those which they fancy they perceive, of which I have demonstrated the emptiness.
Association has indeed its use in the economy of nations. The workmen’s associations are indeed called upon to play an important part in the near future; and are full of hope both as a protest against the wage system, and as an affirmation of reciprocity. This part will consist chiefly in the management of large instruments of labor, and in the carrying out of certain large undertakings, which require at once minute division of functions, together with great united efficiency; and which would be so many schools for the laboring class if association, or better, participation, were introduced. Such undertakings, among others, are railroads.
But Association, by itself, does not solve the revolutionary problem. Far from that, it presents itself as a problem, the solution of which implies that the associates enjoy all their independence, while preserving all the advantages of union; which means that the best association is one into which, thanks to a better organization, liberty enters most and devotion least.
It is for this reason that workmen’s associations, which have now almost changed their character as to the principles which guide them, should be judged, not by the more or less successful results which they obtain, but only according to their silent tendency to assert and establish the social republic.
Whether the workingmen know it or not, the importance of their work lies, not in their petty union interests, but in their denial of the rule of capitalists, money lenders and governments, which the first revolution left undisturbed. Afterwards, when they have conquered the political lie, the mercantile chaos, the financial feudality, the bodies of workers, abandoning the article of Paris and such toys, should take over the great departments of industry, which are their natural inheritance.
But, as remarked a great revolutionary, St. Paul, error must have its day. Heresies must come. It is to be feared that we have not yet done with the utopian Socialists. Association will be a pretext for agitation and an instrument for charlatanism for a long while yet, for a certain class of preachers and chatterers. With the ambitions which it arouses, the envy which disguises itself as devotion, the instincts of domination which it reawakens, it will be for a long time yet one of the regrettable prepossessions which delay the understanding of the Revolution among the people. The workmen’s associations themselves, justly proud of their first successes, carried away by their competition with their former employers, intoxicated by the testimony which already salutes in them a new power, zealous, like all fraternities, to establish their power-seeking predominance, will have difficulty to refrain from overdoing, and to remain within the bounds of their part. Exorbitant pretensions, gigantic, irrational coalitions, disastrous fluctuations, may occur; which a better acquaintance with the laws of social economy would have prevented.
In this respect a grave responsibility will rest upon Louis Blanc in history. It was he who, at the Luxembourg, with his riddle, Equality, Fraternity, Liberty, with his incantation, From each… To each… began the wretched opposition of ideology to ideas, and aroused common sense against Socialism. He thought himself the bee of the revolution: he has been only the grasshopper. After having infected the workmen with his absurd formulas, may he grant the boon of silence to the cause of the working classes, which have fallen into his hands for one day of error.
Translator’s note 15. Reciprocity is not the same thing as exchange: nevertheless it tends to become more and more the law of exchange, and to become lost therein. The scientific analysis of this law was given for the first time, in a pamphlet, Organization of Credit and Currency (Paris, 1848, Garnier Bros.), and the first application attempted by the People’s Bank. ↩
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